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Ceres High students install solar panels in Madera homes
Ceres High School students stop for a photo after installing solar panels on this Madera home last week. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Twelve Ceres High School Manufacturing Production & Green Technology Academy students helped to make two Madera low-income families more energy dependent by installing 10 solar units on their rooftops last week.

The students learned the real-life experiences of installing a 3,200-watt solar Photovoltaic power system. The units should result in the family having little or no energy costs for their household operation.

"The kids love it,' said academy teacher Chris Van Meter. "They get hands-on training."

Students participating in on Oct. 20-21 installation were Rafael Ayala, Cristian Castillo, Esai Flores, Lucy Flores, Maria Luisa Flores, Jose Garcia, Rodolfo Gonzales, Irineo Hernandez, Julessa Nava Ambriz, Armando Sanchez, Angelina Vasquez and Manuel Zurita.

The installation started with a safety meeting and instructions from Grid Alternatives Solar Installation. Students shared jobs in installing mono-crystalline Sunpower panels. Jobs included preparing the aluminum rails on which the solar panels were mounted, mounting the inverter in the garage and installing the electrical conduit.

CHS officials have teamed up with Grid Alternatives, a non-profit organization that introduces the benefits of solar technology to low-income communities. The organization has installed solar systems on about 140 roofs since 2009. Students help install solar panels which they have learned about in the classroom.

The Madera installations were the first two for the Academy students this year. School officials hope to get three to five more installations before June.

Van Meter explained that he is working with Solar Instructor Training Network (SITN) for some funding through the U.S. Department of Energy to possibly due more local installation, particularly with rebates from Turlock Irrigation District and PG&E. The partnership with SITN could snag $2,500 toward the cost of an installation, which can cost from $3,000 to $8,000.

"Were trying to bring more of these installation back here," said Van Meter, "but there's no guarantee we can."

Because Grid Alternative is based in Fresno, most of the installations have stretched from Delhi to Livingston and Madera to Goshen.

Teacher Chris Van Meter said the seniors of the Academy have been working all year learning about solar panels, wind turbines, hydrogen fuel cells, bio-diesel and ethanol in order to get ready for this project.

"This solar install is part of their senior year where they gain internship experience," said Van Meter.
"Throughout the year students work in teams to accomplish project based science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) principles."

Ceres High School Associate Principal Lonnie Cornell said the students work with experts in the field and said the kids love the experience outside the classroom.

Because the seniors' work benefits low-income families, they are deemed as volunteers.

"They are not getting paid but they are learning valuable skills," said Cornell.

Van Meter looks at the Academy as a "school within a school" where technical trade skills are taught. Core classes, such as history, English, math and science, are taught.

The Academy's green focus has freshmen, sophomores and juniors working on specific projects. Seniors learn how to use wind turbines, work with solar panels and hydrogen fuel cells -- all on a half-million dollars' worth of equipment paid for by grants.